Despite all the commotion going on underneath, processing was remarkably calm. The layout was simple - a corridor in the middle, branching out into side corridors with small holding cells lining them. Muse peered down the first one, but saw nothing. Standing in the main corridor, she called out.
"Markus!" she shouted. There was no reply at first. "Markus! Where are you?"
"What?" came a call from somewhere. Not Markus.
"What's going on?" came another. Also not Markus.
"Let me sleep!" came a third. Not Markus, either.
"Markus!" Muse shouted again, louder this time.
"I'm... here!" a finally familiar voice said. Muse ran towards it, turning left into a corridor halfway down the hall. She looked to her sides while dashing through it, and eventually saw, sitting in a cell...
"Markus!" she exclaimed. He was still wearing the same clothes he had been wearing when they took him in - processing presumably involved getting prisoner's rags for the new inmates, at least.
"What are you-"
"Hold on," Muse said and drew an arrow, aiming at the cell's lock from close range. The impact easily broke the lock, and she stepped into the cell, holding her hand out towards Markus. "Now, come on!"
"What are you doing?" Markus asked. "Why are you..."
"What do you think?" Muse replied. "We're here to get you out!"
"We?" Markus asked. "You mean..."
"It's me and Rink," Muse said. "We found our way in and-"
"What were you thinking?" Markus asked.
"This is... it's far too dangerous-"
"-you shouldn't have-"
"Shut up!" Muse shouted to interrupt him. "Don't you dare!"
"Wh- what?" Markus asked. "I'm just wor-"
"After all you've done for me, after all the times you've put yourself at risk for me, after all these years, after everything... don't you even dare tell me off when I come to rescue you for once!"
"Muse..." Markus said, taken aback. "You're... you're angry!"
"Because of how you-"
"No, I mean... you're angry," Markus said with a smile. "I've... never seen you this open before, not since... that day..."
"I-" Muse said. "I just..."
"You can finally get angry at me..." Markus said. "You're starting to-"
"I'm here to get you out, and we're leaving now," Muse said over him. "Because it's my turn to... do you remember what you told me the day we left North Blue...?"
"What?" Markus asked.
Six years earlier...
"Are you alright, miss?"
Muse opened her eyes. Everything was fuzzy... but there was... someone above her. A face... Emaku? No... can't be, he's far away...
Muse shook her head and tried to focus. She didn't recognize the face, unsurprisingly... but that didn't mean it was a good thing. She sat up with a snap, the man standing above her just managing to avoid getting his jaw introduced to her forehead. She slowly stood up, but before she managed to take a step, she fell to her knees, shaking and coughing.
"Miss, do you need any help?"
Muse ignored the voice as she tried standing up again, but found herself unable to do so. She crawled towards the edge of her small boat, dragging herself towards the sandy beach. She immediately collapsed, and as her vision faded to black again, the last thing she could remember was a pair of arms around her while the voice kept trying to get her attention.
When Muse finally managed to open her eyes again, she blinked a few times in surprise as what she saw above her wasn't the sky but a ceiling. She found herself lying in a bed inside a house, and frantically looked around to figure out what was going on. She saw her quiver hanging on a chair that stood against the wall, and her coat neatly folded on the seat. Underneath, the shoes she had been wearing.
Those are my things... Muse thought. Where... where am I? she asked herself as she tried to sit up, but immediately fell back with another cough.
"Careful, miss... don't push yourself," came a man's voice... the same voice she had heard at the beach. "You need to rest."
"I... where..." Muse said as she tried to find the source of the voice. She soon found it - a man wearing a dark coat. She closed her eyes and gave off a small shriek before trying to get out of the bed, but in her state all she managed to do was fall half out of it. The man was quickly there to help her back up, but she reeled back at his touch.
"What's wrong, miss? I'm not going to hurt you."
Muse stared at him, as if she wasn't sure if she should believe him or not, with how she had been hurt by nearly everyone she had ever been close to. She had been cast out by those she called family... exiled by her tribe... and then there was...
"You're... you're not from Zyklos?" she managed to ask, regretting the question as soon as she had asked it. That wasn't information she wanted to volunteer, but she wasn't exactly thinking straight right now.
"Zyklos? Miss, I don't even know what that is," Markus replied with a chuckle, followed by a frown. "I saw your boat and dragged it ashore, and you collapsed when trying to move. If I hadn't found you, you probably would have died..."
"No one ever helps me..." she said in a quiet tone. "I... don't deserve..."
"Miss, if I had planned on hurting you, I would have done so while you were unconscious," he said with a sigh. "I certainly wouldn't have bothered saving your life."
"Because I am a doctor, miss," Markus said as he picked up a bowl from a nearby table and sat down on the bed. "It's what I do. Here, I made you some gruel. You're very dehydrated and malnourished... you need to recover."
"A doctor..." Muse's expression changed slightly. "Then... you're..."
"Let's take these things one at a time," Markus said as he lifted her head up slightly and propped it up with a pillow, before moving a spoon filled with something mostly colourless and mostly odourless towards her mouth. "And first of all, you need to eat."
Muse opened her mouth, allowing the doctor to spoon-feed her the gruel. It turned out to be mostly flavourless as well and Muse made her opinion of it quietly known, but he assured her that it was the best thing to give malnourished patients. They slowly finished the bowl, and Markus made her drink a couple of glasses of water as well. She felt some life starting to return to her body, but...
"Are you feeling better?" Markus asked and put the empty glass on the little table next to the bed.
"Yes..." Muse meekly replied.
"That's a relief," he said. "By the way, miss... what's your name?"
"My name..." Muse repeated. "I'm Miryn- no, Muse."
"Miryn Muse, is it?"
"No... just Muse," Muse said. "Miryn was... no... nevermind."
"Alright," Markus said and extended his hand towards her. "Nice to meet you, miss Muse. I'm Markus Flint."
"Th... thanks..." Muse said and shook his hand.
"Now try to get some more rest, I'll go out and shop and make us a proper dinner later," Markus said before leaving the room.
She remained in the bed for a few minutes, before looking over at her quiver again. "I'll rest... but not here..." she said to herself and slowly sat up, moving her legs off the bed, pushing herself to a stand. She walked over to the chair that held her belongings and put on her shoes, coat, and quiver, before looking for an exit. She didn't want to leave the front door unlocked, so... she opened a window and slowly climbed out, shutting it behind her and noting that it couldn't be opened from the other side. She was thankful for what Markus had done for her... but she didn't want to impose on him any more. It wouldn't end well either way... if there was one thing she thought she had learned of the world outside of Puamoku, it was that everyone in it was only out for themself...
The sun had already set as Muse looked around the area. She wanted to find her way back to her boat, so she started heading down a road that she thought looked like it could lead away from the city. She only had one real memory of what it looked like when she got out of the boat, and there weren't any buildings in said memory. She kept walking, passing a few people but didn't want to ask anyone for the way. She kept her gaze mostly fixated on the road right in front of her.
After a while, she looked up, and found that she had ended up in some more run-down district. She looked around, and concluded that this definitely wasn't what she was looking for... she considered turning around, but before she could, she heard a voice coming from her right.
"Ooh, what do we have here?" it said. Muse looked over, spotting two men standing in an alleyway.
"I'd say it looks like an easy target," a voice from her left said. Two more men over there.
"And a girl, at that... better savour this one!" the other of the two on the left said as they stepped out of their alley.
"Let's party, boys," a voice from behind her said. She turned around, seeing yet another scruffy-looking man stepping out from a dark doorway.
"Just save a piece for me," a final voice sounded from in front of her. Six people in total, surrounding her... holding knives, bats, chains... Muse sighed.
Of course... more people who want to hurt me... she thought, reaching back for her bow.
"You're mine!" one of the men who had come from her right shouted, brandishing a long knife. Muse hoped she had recovered enough to handle this...
With as swift a motion as she could manage, she unfolded her bow and nocked an arrow, firing it towards the man that was coming at her. Her aim was less than true, however, and it flew past him and only struck a wall. The man only paused momentarily before continuing his stride, and the two from the left had started approaching her as well. She drew another arrow, this time firing it up into the air. A moment later, a resounding boom rang out as a small lightning bolt struck one of the men on her left, the other one stumbling backwards from the shock. The man on her right paused his attack from the surprise, and Muse used this opportunity to send another arrow his way - this one finding its goal, hitting him in the right shoulder. He dropped his knife before dropping to his knees, clutching the wound. Muse didn't have any time to pause, though - the man that hadn't gotten hit by her lightning bolt was back on her case, and the other one from the alley on the right was closing in as well, carrying a wooden bat. She readied another arrow and fired it in his direction, and he held up his bat to block it. A smirk appeared on his face as the arrow struck the bat, but it was soon replaced when the arrow - and, thus, the bat as well - burst into flame. Before he had figured out what was going on, another arrow came - this one hitting his chest. He fell to the ground, and Muse just managed to turn around and strike the man coming at her from the other direction in the head with her bow. But before she could get another arrow out, she felt something hit her in the back, and she dropped to her knees followed by getting a chain held across her throat.
"That's enough out of you," the man behind her said. "Do you know what you've done?"
"I don't care," Muse whispered and looked up. The man standing in front of her had pulled out two pistols, aiming them at her.
"Oh, this bitch," he said. "You're going to pay for this, and you only made it worse for yourself!"
"Just get it over with," Muse said and closed her eyes. "I'm used to being hurt..."
"After what you just did, don't think you're getting away with just a bit of-"
"And what do you think you are doing?" a voice familiar to Muse asked. "Ganging up on one poor girl?"
Muse looked up. It was dark, but she could see that behind the man in front of her, another one had appeared... wearing black, and holding...
"What-" was all the man with the pistols said, as Markus put a hand on his shoulder and the tip of a sword at the back of his neck.
"You better drop those, or I'll run you through where you stand..."
"Don't forget we have this girl!" the man holding the chain said.
"No you don't," Muse whispered. She had noticed that the appearance of Markus had made him lessen his grip on the chain somewhat, giving her room to plant her elbow in the man's crotch, causing him to double over in pain. Muse sat down on the ground, not having any energy left to do much more.
"Why do you-" the man with the pistols said.
"Drop them, now."
"But- I- gah!" the man shouted before throwing his pistols to the side and running away. Those of the group that could still walk collected those who couldn't, and the street soon emptied except for Markus and Muse, after a final shout of "This isn't over!"
"Brutes, the lot of them," Markus said as he put his sword back in its sheath and walked over to Muse, still sitting down with her bow beside her. "Are you alright, miss Muse? What were you doing in this part of town? It's not safe here."
"Why did you... come after me?" Muse asked with just the slightest hint of desperation in her voice. "I didn't ask for your help!"
"Because I got worried when you just disappeared like that, of course," Markus said. "Good thing I did, too... you could have gotten seriously hurt."
"And you... you actually defended me..."
"I can't just let an innocent person get picked on, can I?"
"So then why would you do so much for... for someone like me?"
"Miss, please... I'm a doctor. Caring for people is what I do," Markus said. "I promised my father that I would help anyone who needs it, no matter who they are... and if there's one thing I can see clearer than anything else right now, it's that you, miss Muse, are in need of my help. And I wish to give it to you."
"I don't want to cause trouble..."
"You are no trouble at all, miss Muse," Markus said and squatted down in front of her. "Please, just stay with me for now. I will protect you, for as long as you need it... and even longer, if you want."
"But... why?" Muse asked, still trying to understand why he was willing to do this for her.
"I've been trying to tell you that I don't need any reason," Markus replied. "Helping others is a reason in itself."
That's when it burst for Muse. Markus's continuing displays of kindness made everything she had been through since the night of the storm come rushing to the surface all at once, and she started crying. Crying like she never had before, tears rolling down her face in continuous streams, her eyes and cheeks reddening, sniffing and screaming.
"There, there..." Markus said and laid his arms around her. "Just let it out. I'm here for you... I don't know what you've been through, but there's no reason for you to go it alone anymore."
"I... I'm... you..." was all Muse managed to say through the tears. She grabbed on to Markus and buried her face in his shoulder, before he helped her get on her feet again.
"Come on, now... there's dinner waiting for us. At home," Markus said, with emphasis on the last word. With his arm around her shoulders, and Muse holding on to Markus's shirt, they started walking back towards Markus's place, with Muse's tears not stopping until they were inside again.
But they were the last tears she would shed for several years to come.
To be continued in Volume 04: On the run